Bark from the white willow tree is one of the oldest herbal remedies for pain and inflammation, dating back to ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Indian civilizations, as an analgesic and antipyretic agent. Because of the gastric side effects of aspirin, there has been a resurgence in the use of white willow bark for the treatment of inflammatory syndromes. The mechanism of action of white willow bark is similar to that of aspirin which is a nonselective inhibitor of COX-1 and COX-2, used to block inflammatory prostaglandins.
As a doctor I’ve tried, recommended and prescribed many pain-relieving creams and gels to treat painful joints, backache, sore muscles, strained tendons and sprained ligaments. Medical guidelines even recommend that doctors prescribe topical creams and gels to treat mild to moderate joint pain. The best pain relief creams and gels are often just as effective as oral painkillers, but with much less risk of side effects. When I experience muscle or joint pain, I prefer to use a pain relief cream myself.
I’m not saying NSAIDs are useless. They have their place. If you’re recovering from surgery or a major injury, traditional over-the-counter pain relievers are good for controlling inflammation, swelling, and pain, but NSAIDs are far too powerful for over-the-counter, everyday use. Unlike a lot of natural pain relievers, NSAIDs also don’t address the cause of inflammation or pain; they just mask the symptoms.